Matthew Shipp and Nate Wooley have played together on two Ivo Perelman releases, Philosopher's Stone (Leo Records, 2017) and Strings 4 (Leo Records, 2019). Between those albums, Shipp contributed to the Wooley-produced New American Songbooks, Volume 2 (Pleasure of Text Records, 2018), a compilation of piano works that also included Kris Davis, Matt Mitchell and Aruán Ortiz. What If? is the first time the pianist and trumpeter have recorded as a duo, and they are a formidable avant-garde team.
The audiences for both these artists have been well-trained to expect the unexpected, yet Shipp and Wooley have developed extraordinary lexicons that make their work easily recognizable. The twelve tight compositions on What If? are all from Shipp, but often he has created structures from which both players jump off in short order. Shipp mixes thunderous chords and delirious piano figures with appealing motifs. Similarly, Wooley dispenses shrieking and snarling sound, but may abruptly switch to ethereal phrases. There are instances such as "Ktu" and "The Ball" where Shipp and Wooley are taking a bulldozer to the boundaries simultaneously, but often they split ownership of the melodic line, one holding down the center while the other punches holes in it. "Circular Juice From the Matrix," "Cosmic Rumble," and "Space Junk" demonstrate that tradeoff nicely. More structured and melodic are "New Light" and "Points of Fractions," the latter looser.
Shipp and Wooley are virtuosos with a special talent for wildly inventive improvisations and unconventional techniques. The What If? liner notes ask a lot of questions that begin with those words. Among them, the late New York poet Steven Dalachinsky asks the consequences of "colliding/coinciding." We hear the consequences in these pieces where primal energy and inspired revelation make for a fascinating trip to the peripheries of jazz.
What If?; New Light; Plug Vortex; Points of Fractions; Ktu; The Angle; Nova Jazz; Space Junk; The Ball;
Cosmic Rumble; Circular Juice from the Matrix; Call in Space.
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